The Price of Technology

The other day my wife’s nephew took over my TV and started showing pictures on it using an old cell phone I had given him. Being a techno-nerd, I just had to figure out how. It didn't take long but then I wanted to try out a video. That failed. While researching why I ran across a way-cool app called Skifta. After loading a helper program on my media center computer I now have the ability to send any picture or video on my home network to any DLNA compliant TV within range of my cell phone no matter where I am. I had no idea my phone could do something like this! And that got me to thinking about this month’s post – how much does today’s technology cost us and is it worth it?

Let’s set the wayback machine (remember that?) to 1978. The internet did not exist. The median family income was $15,060 (U.S. Dept of Commerce ‘Current Population Report’, 02/1980). Consumers could buy a TRS-80, PET, or an Apple II computer for around $400.00. Although I can’t find an official reference, I believe the average consumer paid about $12.00 a month for a phone line. Television was free but limited to what you could pull out of the air.

In today’s world a normal person will pay over $100.00 a month for 200+ TV channels. Land lines are quickly becoming a thing of the past and most people will part with another $100.00 a month for the privilege of owning a cell phone. The internet has also become a service that most people cannot do without and a medium-speed internet connection is going to run you about $40.00 per month. These are all low-end estimates but they add up to a monthly drain on our financial resources of $240.00. As a reference, the median family income as of 2011 is $50,054.

Over the past 35 years the price of having access to the technology we use every day has increased by 2083% while the median income has increased 332%. Looking at it another way, technology amounted to less than 1% of a family’s income in 1978 while today it consumes 5.75%. Is it worth it?

The vast majority of the population will say that technology is well-worth the cost. We have nearly instant communications with each other no matter where we are. We have a mind-boggling variety of interference-free entertainment options and we are connected like we've never been before. I am a heavy user of technology. Because of it, I have become a successful indie author. But, as a writer, I also know there is a flip-side to every coin.

Technology has served to widen the gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’. Because of its cost, those living on the edge a few decades ago have been left behind. And the gap is widening. As the cost continues to grow, the income necessary to access technology will go up creating a further divide between us. But there is hope.

There are now government programs to provide cell phones to the poor. Most libraries now have public computers allowing anyone to gain access to the internet. My hope is that, one day, cable companies will offer free basic TV and internet service to anyone unable to afford to pay for a monthly subscription. The people in the ‘haves’ category can also do their part by donating used computers and cell phones to organizations that will put them into the hands of the less fortunate.

Is technology worth the cost? Yes it is. If you can afford to own the latest wiz-bang gadget your purchases will help fund the development of even more advanced technology. But you should also realize that not everyone is as fortunate and you should do your part in helping others enjoy the benefits of our modern society. Help stomp out greed. Give when you can. Don’t look down on the less fortunate but reach out a helping hand to them. We are all human and everyone deserves to share the experience of living in the modern world.